Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Joseph: Affirming Heroin Convictions Over Various Challenges

In United States v. Joseph, No. 19-11198 (Oct. 27, 2020) (Hull, William Pryor, Tjoflat), the Court affirmed the defendant’s drug convictions and sentence.

First, the Court upheld the denial of a motion to suppress.  An officer testified that he saw drugs inside the car and, although two witnesses testified that they could not see through the tinted, the district court did not clearly err by crediting the officer’s testimony.

Second, the Court found no error in the district court’s denial of three motions for mistrial.  The prosecutor’s reference to the defendant’s false identity did not warrant a mistrial because it was inextricably intertwined with the drug offense and thus admissible at trial.  An officer’s testimony about the dangers of fentanyl did not violate Rule 403.  And an outburst by the defendant’s brother at trial did not warrant a mistrial because the jurors who saw it said they could still be fair and base their verdict only on the law and evidence.

Third, the Court found no reversible evidentiary error.  DNA evidence did not reveal that the defendant engaged in identity theft.  And a rental application qualified as a business record because, although the testifying witness was not the record custodian for the business, she was still a qualified witness.

Finally, the defendant’s 20-year guideline-range sentence was not substantively unreasonable.  Contrary to the defendant’s argument, the court presumed that the defendant was innocent of a pending firearm charge, and it declined the government’s request for a variance based on evidence of identity theft.